Soft Intelligence : Liquids Matter in Compliant Microsystems

Abstract: Soft matter, here, liquids and polymers, have adaptability to a surrounding geometry. They intrinsically have advantageous characteristics from a mechanical perspective, such as flowing and wetting on surrounding surfaces, giving compliant, conformal and deformable behavior. From the behavior of soft matter for heterogeneous surfaces, compliant structures can be engineered as embedded liquid microstructures or patterned liquid microsystems for emerging compliant microsystems.Recently, skin electronics and soft robotics have been initiated as potential applications that can provide soft interfaces and interactions for a human-machine interface. To meet the design parameters, developing soft material engineering aimed at tuning material properties and smart processing techniques proper to them are to be highly encouraged. As promising candidates, Ga-based liquid alloys and silicone-based elastomers have been widely applied to proof-of-concept compliant structures.In this thesis, the liquid alloy was employed as a soft and stretchable electrical and thermal conductor (resistor), interconnect and filler in an elastomer structure. Printing-based liquid alloy patterning techniques have been developed with a batch-type, parallel processing scheme. As a simple solution, tape transfer masking was combined with a liquid alloy spraying technique, which provides robust processability. Silicone elastomers could be tunable for multi-functional building blocks by liquid or liquid-like soft solid inclusions. The liquid alloy and a polymer additive were introduced to the silicone elastomer by a simple mixing process. Heterogeneous material microstructures in elastomer networks successfully changed mechanical, thermal and surface properties.To realize a compliant microsystem, these ideas have in practice been useful in designing and fabricating soft and stretchable systems. Many different designs of the microsystems have been fabricated with the developed techniques and materials, and successfully evaluated under dynamic conditions. The compliant microsystems work as basic components to build up a whole system with soft materials and a processing technology for our emerging society.